Dalglish – “The values and virtues of Liverpool Football Club have also been close to my heart. Usually, they are my values and virtues as well.”
While Liverpool’s re-ignition has been fueled by many of the club’s support, one man has received the majority of the plaudits; Kenneth Dalglish has been tagged throughout the papers for the immense improvement Liverpool have made under his reign. It is often that a narrow band of individuals are credited with the result of more interwoven efforts, but in this case Anfield will be more than happy for Dalglish’s uneven share of the printed glory. In their minds the hyperboles are fully deserved, if not short of the mark. For only those in Liverpool fully appreciate the legend they so reverently address “King Kenny”, and only he seems to know what makes the club tick so seamlessly.
Along with rekindling the competitive spirit Liverpool so lacked for nearly over a year, Dalglish has returned a much needed ethos to the establishment. No longer are excuses provided for unforgivable defeats; no longer are tenuous hopes offered as plans for the future. Each individual is held accountable for his actions, Dalglish foremost, and each individual is honored for their contribution, with the club’s supporters regularly being cited. But for all of this, there is a much simpler explanation as to how Dalglish has galvanized Liverpool: he makes the people happy, and more importantly he makes them feel special. The players feel respected; therefore they want to play for him. They are expected to uphold a certain standard, and in exchange they are duefully praised by their manager. In short, the players keep feeling good when they please Dalglish, and their lifted spirits only help them play even better. It is a sustained cycle, one which has generated a run of form matched only by clubs at the top of the table.
Of course, it is now easy to pin Dalglish’s legendary status as having inevitably boosted everyone’s spirits, but prior to his appointment concerns were expressed over his decade long hiatus from management. Some believed that he would not be able to relate to the modern player, one who is spoken of as having more power than even the manager of old. Others questioned Dalglish’s ability to adapt to a new tactical frontier which has put to death the 4-4-2 he revolutionized. Still all the amateur historians seemed to ignore that in football new challenges emerge continuously, rather than bursting forth in ten year intervals. Dalglish regularly dealt with adversity in his previous stint at the helm: he had to reconfigure the team after the departure of Rush, and of course he steered Liverpool through the dour circumstances of Hillsborough. Thus, his return only left the question of whether he could rediscover the old battle within him, not whether he could mold his decisions to the will of a new time.
The first test Dalglish would face came almost immediately. Torres’s transfer saga was distressing both due to its lateness in the transfer window and because of the perceptions of betrayal most in Liverpool felt towards their once beloved striker. Torres himself made no efforts to ease such tensions, exculpating himself by claiming he “never kissed the badge”, going as far as to say that notions of romance and affiliation were illusory remnants of a bygone era. The situation appeared bleak. Results were already dwindling for the club, and emblematic players like Alonso and Mascherano had already left, but never before were the pride and values of the club so openly rejected. Thus, it was fitting that Dalglish, who is as educated and embedded in club’s history as any other, would be the one to resolve the mess.
In anticipation to his response, journalists and media men lined up with questions and speculations over whom Dalglish would bring in to replace Torres. However, Dalglish would not yield to the frenzy and negative attention. He simply quieted reporters with his reply: “Once we’ve got a story to tell about anybody then we’ll let you know. But we’ve no stories to tell about anything. I know what’s going on, but it doesn’t mean I’ve got to tell you”. By refusing to indulge in matters dubious or suspect, Liverpool already regained some credibility under Dalglish’s new tenure. His actions and demeanor were identical to his previous dealings in the market. Even at Blackburn, when Dalglish was competing against Liverpool for the signature of Irish international Jason McAteer, instead of offering McAteer some false inflated sum of money he simply told him to “phone Roy Evans now and ask where he is going to play you. He doesn’t know. We do. We know where you fit in.” McAteer would fail to see Dalglish’s wisdom, and he went on to waste four years of his career under aimless management.
While that is a glimpse into the judgment of a clearly experienced veteran, even early in his football career Dalglish showed distinguished marks of prudency. In the biography Dalglish, Stephen Kelly recounts how Dalglish reacted to the approach of Celtic for his first professional contract. Dalglish was still a devout supporter of Rangers at the time but when “Jock Stein, the legendary Celtic manager, sent his assistant Sean Fallon to see Dalglish and his parents at their home… Dalglish raced to his bedroom and frantically tore down the Rangers posters on his bedroom walls.” While at first glance that account may paint Dalglish to be as fickle as Torres in his love for his boyhood club, rather it was a testament to the dedication Dalglish would show Celtic and every other club he has been associated with. Players such as Torres may point to how easy it is to grow cynical in the footballing world, but Dalglish has never shied from the challenge. Dalglish knows that passion for football isn’t something that one can always just find, but rather one must work hard to maintain the desire to perform well. As with everything else, one has to work to discover why one loves football and what makes football as great as it is.
Thankfully, now that Dalglish has officially been announced permanent manager of the club, everyone in Liverpool is rediscovering that love for football. Fellow Anfield legend Steve Nicol believes that with his return Dalglish will make sure that the players “starting next season from the very first day [will believe] they’re going to be champions.” Certainly that places a heavy burden, but it also brings about the proper mentality for every match and every day of the season. At once it is demanding to think of yourself as a champion, but it is also freeing to hold the conviction that the trophy belongs to you.
Just as with his transfer dealings, Dalglish only accepts principles and attitudes which reflect some sense of purpose and excellence in the game. That is why he only makes declarations about the club’s actions when he feels them to be appropriate. Virtue and elegance are qualities only attained with patience and caution, but what Dalglish does display unconditionally is a love for the supporters, fans, and contributors to the club. In fact, he has shown that respect for people all throughout his life. It is now said that Dalglish has transformed the club because he is a living Anfield legend, but the fact is that he has been a legend everywhere he has been, at every point in time. The pundits were correct when they noted that the Liverpool and Premier League Dalglish knew a decade ago are very different now. The important thing is that the entities have remained identifiable, even though they have changed. Similarly Dalglish has changed and matured from his time away, and perhaps the oddest aspect of his return, as much as it has been heralded as a return to Liverpool’s golden era, is that it has proven that change is not necessarily a detriment. Dalglish has shown that while change itself is not dangerous, forgetting old values is. Now that Dalglish and Liverpool, both having gone through age and change, are reunited they can help each other remember those great values.